Thursday, 24 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The pan hinged terrapin

pan hinged terrapin
Pan hinged terrapin. 
Terrapins are reptiles from the order of Chelonians that also include both tortoises and turtles. Pan hinged terrapins are one of the five terrapin species found within the southern African region.

The bony and convex upper section of their shells are referred to as the ‘carapace’ while the flat and lower part of their shells are called the ‘plastron.’

The pan hinged terrapin is a small terrapin, reaching up to 180 mm in length, with a rounded, smooth shell and equipped with sharp claws. Their heads are large, their snouts blunted and their beaks flat. The carapace is a brown colour which often vary amongst others depending on age and wear.

Habitat

Pan hinged terrapins live in eastern parts of southern Africa in areas of countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the islands of Seychelles and Madagascar. Within South Africa they are found in the Kruger National Park along the Upper Limpopo River.

They are water loving reptiles found in pans, marshes and slow-moving rivers. They enjoy basking on rock faces and floating close to the water surface.

Behaviour
Pan hinged terrapin.
Pan hinged terrapin. 

When feeling threatened terrapins will emit a foul smelling fluid from specific glands hopefully deterring predators.

These reptiles tuck their heads in sideways and withdraw their front legs before they close their hinged parts while tortoises pull their heads straight back into their shells.

Diet

Pan hinged terrapins have a taste for a carnivorous diet, feeding on water animals, small frogs and invertebrates, small birds and the carcasses of mammals.

Reproduction

Females nest throughout summer and incubate their eggs for between 104 to 107 days.  Young pan hinged terrapins are a mere 30 mm in length when hatched.

Did you know?

There are over 240 species of Chelonians.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The cultural and traditional Rainbow Nation, South Africa

South Africa, often referred to as the Rainbow Nation, is as diverse as it gets with 11 official languages, various cultures and different traditions, and a mix of people who call the country home.

Most South Africans are able to speak more than just one of the 11 official languages; Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The National Anthem is a true South African mix, being made up of the five most spoken languages in the country.

The country’s cuisine is largely based on meaty meals making braais (barbeques) a very popular social gathering amongst friends and families. Rooibos, a tea with a unique aroma and taste, is enjoyed by many South Africans and exported overseas for others to appreciate. South Africa is a nation with people passionate about sport, strongly supporting mostly soccer, cricket and of course rugby. Beautiful hand-crafted goods made from wire and beads are sold by vendors, that are often found on street corners and at traffic lights.

South Africa has a lot to offer; wildlife sightings, cultural experiences, natural phenomena’s and other various major tourist attractions.

KhoiSan rock art.
A short History lesson

The two groups of people who originally lived in the area were the Southern African aboriginal Khoikhoi and San tribes. Both the Khoikhoi and San were artists, leaving magnificent works of art engrained on rocks across the country. The San, also known as Bushmen, were hunter-gatherers while the Khoikhoi were herdsmen.

Groups of Africans (Bantus) arrived from central Africa while Europeans arrived to settle and colonise the south. All brought with them their     unique cultures, skills and abilities, making up a new nation.

The migrants from parts of Africa were not all from the same culture; there were the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Ndebele, Shangaan and Venda, amongst others, each with their own vibrant and interesting way of life.

South African traditional cultures

The Nguni group consist of the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi, and represent nearly two thirds of the African population within the country. The Swazi culture live in Swaziland, its very own country, which is situated within South Africa and so do not represent a South African culture.

The Zulu culture is the largest ethnical group in the country with around 10 million living in KwaZulu-Natal. They refer to themselves as ‘the people of the heavens’ and are known for their impressive beadwork and basket making as well as their traditional beehive shaped grass huts scattered throughout the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. Within tribes there are warriors armed with shields who engage in stick fighting.

Traditional Xhosa wedding celebration.
In the traditional Xhosa culture, men look after the cattle and take part in stick fighting as a pastime while women tend to the crops and do the housework. Dress code is important and indicates the social standing of a person, for example such as their marital status or whether they are a mother to a new baby or perhaps a widow. The initiation ceremony, where young men are circumcised and spend some time in the bush, is still practised today.

The Ndebele culture decorate their homes in lively and vibrant geometric designs, making for unique homes, and are also well known for their artwork. Women wear beadwork, neck rings and traditional blankets that are often very colourful while men will wear a breast-plate that hangs from their neck and animal skin head bands and ankle bands.

The Sotho group includes the Northern Sotho (Pedi), the Southern Sotho and the Tswana cultures and greatly differ from the Nguni group in how they manage their villages and marriages.

The Pedi culture live in the province of Limpopo in round huts, known as rondawels, made out of a mixture of clay and dung. This group of people are also referred to as Northern Sotho’s or Bapedi. Music, singing and dancing are important traditions to Pedi’s during celebrations.

Southern Sotho musicians wearing blankets. 

The Southern Sotho people are found in Lesotho with intensely coloured blankets worn as blankets as part of their cultural identification. Their blankets are store bought, adorned with various designs, and are not made traditionally. Art such as beadwork, sewing, pottery making, weaving and house decoration are of importance while items such as sleeping mats, baskets and beer strainers that are made by hand from grass materials by the women.  

Tswana is a culture divided into various clans situated in both Botswana and South Africa. Within South Africa, they are found in the northern part of the country; Gauteng, North West and the Northern Cape.

The Tsonga group is made up of the Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga people and various other smaller ethnic groups.

The Shangaan traditional group formed when their leader, Soshangane left to Mozambique, and ended up wedding local women of whom some were Tsonga, and thus forming the Shangaan people. Today the majority live within the area of the famous Kruger National Park in the province, Mpumalanga. The culture is a mix of both Zulu and Tsonga culture; with the military system and traditional dress of the Zulu’s with the Tsonga patterned thatch roofs on round huts.  

The Tonga people are an ethnic group not located in South Africa but rather Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique while the Thonga (also known as Tembe) established a kingdom in East Africa.

The Rainbow Nation is made up of many cultures, and home to others from other African countries, making it an interesting country to visit!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The snouted cobra

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra with hood extended. 
This cobra species, also known as Egyptian cobras, live on average 20 years and are found throughout parts of Southern Africa.

Snouted cobras come in a variety of colours, from light yellowish through to shades of brown or black and usually have black markings or dark coloured bands. They have smooth scales, round pupils and particularly large hoods.

Adults are on average anything between 1.2 and 1.8 metres (3.9 and 5.9 ft) but on occasion can reach a length up to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft).

Habitat

Snouted cobras are found in Southern African countries such as southern Mozambique, eastern Botswana, and northeast South Africa as well as throughout Zimbabwe and Malawi.

These snakes live in bushveld and low veld areas within savanna habitats and often take up permanent residency in abandoned termite mounds.

You can find them in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West, northern parts of Gauteng and northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, situated within South Africa.

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra on the defence. 
Behaviour

Like a typical reptile, snouted cobras enjoy basking in the sun during the day in order to absorb heat.

Snouted cobras are usually not aggressive snakes but when feeling threatened or nervous will assume an intimidating pose, by lifting as much as half of a metre of their body off the ground while spreading their impressive hood, however if possible they will escape into the nearest hiding place. 
  
The secret to them being able to spread their hood is because of the ability to flare the ribs in their neck.

Venom

The snouted cobra is a highly venomous snake loaded with neurotoxic venom; with one bite breathing is affected and if left untreated may lead to respiratory failure and eventual death. 

Victims are typically bitten at night on the lower leg and initially suffer from pain and swelling that often results in blistering.

Diet

These snakes eat animals such as toads, rodents, lizards, birds and their eggs as well as other snakes, especially puff adders.

They are mostly nocturnal and so search for food from dusk onwards.

snouted cobra
Snouted cobra. 
Reproduction

Mating season is during the months of September and October for snouted cobras, often making these snakes more aggressive than usual. Females are an oviparous species of snake, laying between 8 and 20 eggs during summer. Their gestation period is about 42 days and eggs are incubated for between 65 to 70 days.

Young snouted cobras are anything between 22 and 34 cm in length and are independent from birth.

Did you know?

Snouted cobras can climb trees. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The flap-necked chameleon

Flap-necked chameleon
The flap-necked chameleon. 
The flap-necked chameleon (chamaeleo dilepis) is native to sub-Saharan Africa and home to a range of different subspecies. Their name stems from the flaps that bulge from either side of the back of their head. Usually these flaps lie flat but when feeling threatened they raise and angle their flaps in hopes of discouraging rivals and predators. 

Reaching up to 35 cm (14 in) in length, the flap-necked chameleon, also known as the flapped-necked chameleon, is considered a large species of chameleons. They have small, white in colour, triangular shaped tubercles running down their throat and white belly, with their primary colour ranging from pale yellow through to shades of green and brown. 

Males are broader at the base of their tails and have a spur that grows out from the back of each hind foot. Within this species, females are considered the more dominant of the sexes, being larger, stronger and more territorial than males.

Flap-necked chameleon
Independent eye movement.
Chameleons are equipped with an incredible ability to have a 360 º view of the world around them. Their eyes are conically shaped with fused eyelids and each eye is able to move in a different direction from the other, which allows for the 360 º vision.

Habitat

Flap-necked chameleons are commonly found in parts of hot sub-Saharan African countries throughout central, eastern, western and southern Africa. They call home in all provinces within local South Africa except for the Western Cape. 

They usually go about their lives, mostly active during the day while sleeping at night, in the branches of trees and bushes. They prefer coastal thicket areas, woodlands, and moist and dry savannah habitats. These chameleons will make a trip to the ground when in need to feed or find a mate.

Colour change

The flap-neck chameleon cannot change the colour of its skin to just any colour but is restricted to changing between shades of light to dark green though to shades of browns and black.

Flap-necked chameleon
Camouflage change. 
Chameleons change their colour to aid in camouflage, signal their moods or entice a mate. When the flap-necked chameleon is light in colour, usually a light green, it signifies a relaxed mood. The chameleon will change to a darker colour when feeling stressed or threatened.

Chameleons change their colour by taking control of the cells that lie just beneath their transparent skin. These cells are called chromatophores which are a mixture of pigmented, light-reflecting and melanin cells of which they are even able to open specific cells to create a spotted or striped effect.

Diet

A flap-necked chameleons hunts insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, using the power of their eyes and tongue.

Once their prey is spotted using their incredible 360 º vision, they propel their tongue at a speed of around three hundredths of a second, latching onto the unlucky insect chosen as a snack. The tongue, which can reach a length further than its own body, holds onto the prey by creating a vacuum with the use of their tongue muscles or by using the layer of sticky mucus covering their entire tongue.

Flap-necked chameleon
Flap-necked chameleon having a crunchy snack. 
Reproduction

It is only during the mating season that female flap-neck chameleons will allow males to approach without displaying aggressive behaviour. Mating lasts about an hour after which the female again becomes aggressive towards the male, turning black in colour and butting his head with any approaching movement.

The female goes through a gestation period of about a month after which she digs a hole to bury up to 60 small eggs. The youngsters break out of their egg sanctuaries anything between 6 to 10 months, having to fend for themselves from day one.

Did you know?

The flap-necked chameleon is one of the most widely distributed species of chameleons.


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The giant plated lizard

Giant plated lizard
Giant plated lizard. 
The second largest species of lizard found in South Africa, after the monitor lizard is the giant plated lizard.  A true-warmth loving reptile it named ‘plated lizard’ due to its plate-like back scales that act as its body armour.

The giant plated lizard is large in size, with a flattened head and body, and can reach a total length of 75 cm (29.5 in). Adults are a dark brown to black colour with bars, a yellowish tint in colour, running down their backs, a white throat and light brown belly. Youngsters are the same in colour but have a more prominent yellow speckled appearance and stripes running along their backs, which fade with age.

They have specially adapted black soles on their feet that are rubber-like balls for living amongst rock outcrops.

Giant plated lizard
Giant plated lizard amongst rock outcrops
Habitat

Giant plated lizards are found in the north-eastern parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal within South Africa. They are also found in other countries of southern African such as Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

They live in the rocky outcrop areas which are mostly situated on the upper slopes of granite hills.

Behaviour

They are highly territorial reptiles although not solitary and will live in small family groups.
A shy lizard by nature they are hard to approach and will usually jam themselves into a rock crevice when feeling threatened by flattening their body and inflating themselves with air, making it impossible to pull them out.

With their strong and muscular legs, they are able to move effortlessly among the rock faces in their territory.

Diet

Giant plated lizards are omnivorous with a varied selection of flora and fauna to choose from to eat. They feed on flowers, leaves, soft fruits such as figs and will eat other smaller lizards as well as baby tortoises.

They move slowly when searching for their food while scraping through loose soil or leaf litter for possibly hidden snacks.

Giant plated lizard
A young giant plated lizard. 
Reproduction

When breeding season begins in summer, the males develop a pinkish-red in colour hint to their throat and sides of head. Males become highly territorial and will fight with one another, while persistently tailing a female.

Females are oviparous meaning they lay eggs after mating. They seek out soil-filled rock crevices in which to lay and hide their 2 to 5 oval shaped eggs. Giant plated lizards are 150 to 170 mm long when hatched.

Did you know?

Those that prey on the giant plated lizard are snakes, some mammals and a selection of birds of prey. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - Spekes hinged tortoise

Spekes hinged tortoise
Spekes hinged tortoise.
Within Africa a large diversity of tortoises are found; from the African spurred tortoise who is the third largest tortoise in the world, to the rather speedy (for a tortoise) and decent climbing, leopard tortoise, among many more.

In Southern Africa, the family of hinged tortoises are divided into four subspecies, all of which belong to the genus known as Kinixys. The use of the word ‘hinged’ is a result of their ability to close the hinged rear part of their carapace (back part of shell).

The spekes hinged tortoise is medium sized, with a patterned shell made up of light and dark patches or rings, and their colours range from light yellowish through to shades of brown. Their shells have their own set of nerve endings, allowing them to feel every rub, touch or scratch.

Spekes hinged tortoise
The hinge. 
Their hinges develop at about 2 years old, appearing towards the back of their shells and above their hind legs. Used for protective measures; when closed downwards it protects their back legs and tails.

Habitat

They are found living in savannahs and rocky areas with dry bushes, in central and Eastern Africa, from Zimbabwe to the North Western and Northern provinces of South Africa, and along the coastal plains of Mozambique through to Swaziland.

Behaviour

Tortoises prefer to live their existences alone, only meeting up to mate, and do not bond or form groups. A happy tortoise is an active tortoise; unhappy or stressed tortoises tend to not make much movement.

They pick up scents using their vomeronasal organ, located on the roof of their mouths, by pumping their throats to circulate air through their nose and mouth.
When needing to withdraw in their protective shell they have to empty their lungs first, so when startled they are often heard exhaling loudly and quickly.

Diet

Spekes hinged tortoises are mostly active during rain and in the evening time, which is somewhat unique amongst tortoises.

These tortoises are omnivores and eat a varied diet of leaves, small flowers, grass, succulents, fungi, fruit, mushrooms, snails, beetles and millipedes.

Reproduction

The mating game between tortoises involves the male nudging, pushing or moving the female and if she doesn’t walk away, mating will follow. Males are the noisier of the two, making groaning hisses during a mating session.

A female will open up her hinged and well-developed posterior in order to lay her eggs. She will lay a small clutch of between 2 to 6 eggs, usually after the rain from late afternoon into the night.

Spekes hinged tortoise
Spekes hinged tortoise. 
Did you know?

Spekes hinged tortoises are named after the British explorer who discovered the source of the Nile River, Captain John Hanning Speke.

Their predators include the secretary bird and monitor lizards.

A group of tortoises are called a creep. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Elephants, the giants from Africa, sniff out explosives

Chishuru, had one job, to find out which bucket contained traces of an explosive. The 17 year old male elephant, walked past a row of buckets, of which one had a trace of TNT, when he found the bucket using his excellent sense of smell, he then raised his right leg signalling the find and received a treat of marula fruit.

Elephants

Close up of elephant.
In Bela-Bela, a small town north of Pretoria, researchers conducted smelling tests on the largest land animal on Earth, elephants. These magnificent animals, were able to pick up on the scent of explosives 73 out of 74 times from a line of buckets. The elephants scored 23 out of 23 in the second bunch of tests, when odors such as tea, bleach, soap and gasoline, acting as distractions, were used.

The team of researchers, have proven that these giants have the ability to sniff out explosives with their powerful sense of smell. Despite this skill, fortunately it is not the intention to put the lives of elephants at risk on the battlefield to whiff out the deadly explosives.
It was first noticed that the giants of Africa could detect explosives in Angola, after returning following a war in the year 2002, which had left undetonated mines scattered across the land.

Elephants
Baby elephant.
Researchers wanted to figure out why elephants were avoiding certain areas within the country. They believed it was one of the two; the elephants could smell the explosives or they avoided the areas where elephants had lost their lives in previous blasts.

The researches joined forces with the United States army, both with their own part to play. Researchers were on a mission to find out exactly how elephants smell, while the army engineers still plan to apply what’s been learnt to electronic sensors. The idea that the army has is to have a team of engineers design a sensor based on the trunk of an elephant; a trunk puffs out air, which in turn stirs up an area and then sucks the air back in to smell.

Elephants
An elephant backside. 
Elephants have an extraordinary sense of smell with around 2,000 genes for picking up scents, more than any other animal on Earth. Their nostrils are found at the tip of the trunk and help with breathing, smelling and sucking in water to squirt into their mouths. Elephant trunks are constantly being used, swinging back and forth, picking up new scents.While dogs and rats are also able to sniff out explosives, an elephant can detect the smell of an explosive from a 100 metres away.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The Puff adder

Puff adder.
Their name ‘puff adder’ comes from the snake known for inflating itself and hissing when feeling threatened. The puff adder is one of the most common and widespread venomous snakes found in Africa. There are two subspecies of this snake; the more common and widespread puff adder, as found in the Kruger, and the puff adder found in Somalia and northern Kenya.

The puff adder, which grows to a maximum of 1 metre in length, is easily recognized by its stumpy and stocky appearance, is yellow-brown to light brown in colour with chevron-like markings, and a large, triangular shaped head with large nostrils that point upwards.

Puff adders belong to the viper family, meaning they have large, hinged front fangs that in order for them to be retained, they have to be hinged and folded out of the way of the mouth. It is because of this that their bites are painful and they are able to deeply penetrate their venom.

Their venom is described as cytotoxic, meaning it causes severe swelling and is toxic to cells causing cells to be destroyed, known as necrosis. A puff adder usually produces between 100 – 350 mg of venom with a single bite, referred to as their venom yield, and a maximum of 750 mg. It takes only about 100 mg of venom to possibly kill a fully grown adult.  

Puff adder striking.
The puff adder takes the title for the most bites and fatalities of a snake in Africa, accounting for 60% of all recorded snake bites. The reasons for its high number of bites being because it does not move away from approaching footsteps, instead defending its position and striking if deemed necessary,  it is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including the Kruger National Park, and is aggressive by nature.

However the chances of death from a puff adder bite are thankfully small, fatalities that do occur are usually due to poor medical care and a secondary infection from the bite.

Habitat

These snakes are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana and the Arabian Peninsula among many others, except for the Sahara and rainforest areas.  

Puff adders prefer living their lives out in somewhat rocky grassland areas, open woodlands and savannah habitats.

Puff adder markings. 
Behaviour

These snakes are great at climbing trees, lurking in bushes and are capable of swimming with ease.

Puff adders are sluggish and slow snakes, who often bask in the sun in low bushes and on rocks. Their patterns, on black or brown surfaces such as dead leaves, create excellent camouflage.

When disturbed, they will hiss loudly and assume a tightly coiled and defensive posture with their fore part of their body in a taut ''S'' shape. They may try to retreat from the perceived threat towards cover and safety.

Puff adders have one of the fastest strike of all snakes, and are able to strike either from the side or front on, after which they quickly return to their defensive position, ready to strike again if need be. They can strike up to one third of their total body length while young and inexperienced puff adders launch their entire bodies forward. These vipers do not often grip their victims preferring to release quickly and then returning to their defensive position.

Diet

Puff adders mainly eat rodents but will also chow down on birds, amphibians, lizards, meerkat pups and even other snakes. These vipers are both diurnal and nocturnal although mostly active during the night.

Reproduction

A female puff adder releases a pheromone that attracts male puff adders, who then battle it out in a neck-wrestling dance, in the hopes of winning over the female. 

In late summer, a large litter of 20 to 60 baby puff adders are born, between 12.5 and 17.5 cm long. A female puff adder, in a Czech zoo, holds the record for the most live young born of any snake, at an extraordinary number of 156!


Female puff adders give birth to live young through a process which is viviparous; young puff adders develop within an egg during the incubation period, only to break out at the end of term while still inside their mother and then emerge into the world. 

Did you know?

Are very territorial snakes and have been known to kill other puff adders that are within their territory.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

BIID, a deep desire for a form of disability

Jewel, a woman blinded by choice. 
Over a space of a few months, a psychiatrist poured drain fluid into a woman’s eyes, eventually leading to what the young woman had always wanted, to be blind. Usually when one loses their cherished eyesight, it comes as a difficult blow but not for Jewel Shuping who from a very young age had always dreamed of being blind. She spent her childhood years staring into the sun, started using a cane by the age of 18 and learnt Braille by the time she was 20 years old.

The serious and rare psychological disorder, Body integrity identity disorder, happens in otherwise healthy individuals with a strong desire for an amputation or another form of a disability, such as blindness or paralysis. The individual feels as though they are meant to have a disability and their body part, such as a limb or their eyes, are not meant to be a part of them.

Sufferers sometimes go to extreme and dangerous measures in the desperate hope to injure their ‘alien’ body part so badly there is no other choice but to remove it or they become paralyzed. They might use a gun or chainsaw, put their limb in dry ice, lie on train tracks and wait for a train to run over their legs or they might fling themselves from a hight in the hope of damaging their spine so severely they become paralyzed. 

Karl (not his real name), who had suffered from BIID since a child, chose the dry ice method, packing both his legs into a bucket full of below freezing dry ice and after 6 hours got himself to the emergency room. The tissue was beyond repair and within a few months, much to Karl's delight, his legs were amputated. 

Chloe, a BIID 'pretender' who longs to be paralysed. 
BIID sufferers are sometimes so intensely jealous of individuals with the form of disability they long for. ‘Pretenders’, as they are referred to in the BIID community, pretend they have the disability they want, either in private or public, such as Chloe Jennings-White who spends most of her time in a wheelchair pretending to be a paraplegic. ‘Wannabes’ are all those who have this disorder, who so desperately want to be rid of their ‘alien’ body part, and some go on to become ‘successful wannabes’. There is also another group of people who are referred to as ‘devotees’ and these individuals are mainly attracted to people with amputations and other forms of disabilities.

This complex and mysterious condition is called Body integrity identity disorder, as it refers to the strong desire to alter their body integrity and identity. The individual’s physical body does not match the idea of their physical form.

The cause of BIID remains unknown but there are two main theories that try to explain why the disorder occurs. One puts the blame on the brain that is not able to provide the true plan of the body, and the brain then sees the ‘alien’ body part as not actually being a part of the person. The individual then has the strong desire to be rid of the body part. The other theory is a psychological one, the BIID sufferer, at a young age, may have seen an individual such as an amputee, a paraplegic or a person with another form of a disability, and ever since began to have thoughts that is what makes the ideal person.

A misunderstood and often judged condition, it usually leaves its sufferers feeling alone and confused and only sure of one thing, they feel that they are not in their true human form and are desperate to be in the body they were meant to be.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The Striped skink

Skinks are part of the squamata order; members of the order are known by their skins which bear either scales or shields. With about 1 400 species of skinks, they come in many different colours, sizes and shapes making a variety of different looking characters. These small reptiles are divided into four subfamilies with two of the subfamilies being legless and the hundreds of species in the other two subfamilies having limbs.

Striped skinks are lizards within the skink family and so called due to the stripes on their body. There are a variety of subspecies of striped skinks varying in different coloured stripes and bodies. These small reptiles have overlapping scales which usually have a smooth texture a shiny glimmer. The species of striped skink found in the Kruger most commonly is referred to as an African striped skink or simply a striped skink.  

This skink is a brown in colour with two yellowish stripes running down the length of body on either side of their spine. Some skinks have a window on each of its lower eyelids, including this subspecies of striped skink, meaning the eyelid is transparent and they are able to see through this window when the eyelid is closed. Both the female and male can grow to 23cm in length.
                                                      
Habitat

There are various species of striped skinks found through-out the world except for the icy continent of Antarctica. The African striped skink is rife in southern Africa countries, such as Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and parts of central and eastern South Africa.  

They live in various habitats, from mangrove swamps to dry savanna areas and are commonly seen in suburbs. Skinks can easily climb over rocks, up walls of houses and climb trees.


Behaviour

Skinks, like many other lizards, can release their tails freely when captured by a predator. They often move or wave their tail as a means to distract the predator away from their body and once the predators snatches their tail they contract their tail muscles and the tail is then detached.

Energy has been stored in the tail and is used for thrashing movements once the tail is released which further distracts the predator. The striped skink then walks away to safety with its life.

Diet

Their diet includes small insects, such as beetles and moths, and other small invertebrates. They forage from rocks, trees and on the ground, by dashing a short distance from cover to pick up food.

Striped skinks can become rather tame when generously offered food often.

Reproduction

The female lays a small clutch of soft shelled eggs in a shallow hole under a boulder warmed by the sun. 

During summertime, the striped skink will have between 3 and 9 babies that are sexually mature by 18 months old.

Did you know?

Some people keep striped skinks as pets. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Bat-eared fox ~ the African fox with impressive ears

Bat-eared fox
Bat-eared fox. 
The bat-eared fox is an African species of fox who is found living across the savannahs of the southern and eastern parts of the continent. It is so called because of its very large ears which are up to an impressive 12cm (4.7 inches) in size and full of blood vessels to clear the heat and keep cool. These big ears also give the fox really good hearing.

This African fox is small and cute, weighing only up to 5kgs, and measuring 55cm in length including both its and body while its bushy tail adds on 23 - 34cm. Their small faces are very characteristic with a racoon-like ‘’face mask’’ black in colour and muzzles short and pointed. Bat-eared foxes have short legs and strong paws adapted for digging their dens.

Their fur is a yellowish-brown to sandy grey colour, with their bellies being lightest in colour and the fur around their eyes, muzzle, back of ears, legs and tips of their tails darker. Wild animals such as hyenas and birds of prey hunt them down for food while humans hunt them for their fur. 

Bat-eared fox
Young bat-eared fox. 
Habitat

There are two species of bat-eared foxes that roam East and southern Africa. One lives from Ethiopia and South Sudan to Tanzania, the other is found from southern Zambia and Angola to South Africa as well as extending to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Bat-eared foxes are native to 10 countries on the African continent and their homes range in size from 0.3 to 3.5 km2.

Bat-eared foxes prefer areas of bare ground with low shrubs and short grasses to live and forage for their food. However they do venture into areas of thick shrubs and tall grasses to hide out when feeling threatened.

They raise their baby foxes in dens they dug out themselves as protection from extreme weather. Bat-eared foxes also enjoy relaxing under acacia trees in South Africa during the day, seeking shade and protection from the harsh African sun.

Behaviour

Bat-eared foxes live in breeding pairs or family groups of up to 15 individuals which include mating pairs with their young. Being highly social animals they are often groom one another, play together and sleep in their protective groups. They use visual displays such as facial expressions, ear and tail posture as a means to communicate among each other. These foxes will also call out to one another making a shrill cry.  

Males are called ‘dogs’ and females are referred to as ‘vixens’ while their young are called ‘kits’, ‘cubs’ or ‘pups’. The males are the guards of the groups and make for great fathers as they groom and play with the youngsters while the mother searches for food for her family.   

Bat-eared fox
Eating termites at dusk.
These African foxes are mostly nocturnal but sometimes are out and about during the day, this depends on their location of the time of the year. They prefer to feed under the cover of nightfall, emerging from their underground dens at dusk, to feast in their groups.

Diet

Bat-eared foxes have a mostly insectivorous diet, eating grasshoppers and termites, although sometimes birds, eggs, rodents, lizards, reptiles and wild berries found in their surroundings. Their diet consists of an extraordinary number of 1.15 million termites a year which is in total 80% of their diets. They seldom drink water as they gain most of the moisture needed form their food.

They have extremely pointed teeth with which to quickly and efficiently chew their food and which in turn helps to digest their meals. Their teeth are also small and they have up to 8 extra molars which grind the hard casings of the insects they chomp down.  

Bat-eared fox
Peering out the den. 
Reproduction

These foxy animals form monogamous pairs and breed each year having a litter of three to six. After carrying their developing young for 6 - 70 days, she gives birth to the litter in the safety of their den. Both mother and father take responsibility for the litter, by taking care and protecting their youngsters.

Just 9 days after birth the young cubs open their eyes and from 17 days of age they begin to explore the outside world leaving the den for adventure. At 1 month old the litter begins to wean off from their mother but continue to suckle until 3 or 4 months old. Young bat-eared foxes are considered fully grown when they reach 5 to 6 months old and are ready to form their own family when just 9 months old.

Most young foxes leave their family groups or parents to form with another group or make a pair although some females do remain with their native group.

Sadly the mortality rate in litters are high and often the entire litter born does not survive. This is due to several factors such as the fact that the mother only has four nipples while sometimes giving birth of up to 6 cubs and the danger of predators grabbing the young.

Did you know?

They have up to 48 teeth, more than any other non-marsupial mammal.

Bat-eared foxes are hunted by birds of prey, jackals and sadly humans for their fur.

Bat-eared fox family.